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Mobutu: died in exile

Mobutu Dies in Morocco

Mobutu Sese Seko - Zaire's president for more than 30 years - has died in exile in Morocco. He was removed from power in May by his long-time opponent, Laurent Kabila, who renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mobutu had been ill for some time, and had been receiving treatment for prostate cancer. The official Moroccan news agency MAP said Mobutu died at Mohamed V military hospital in Rabat "after a long illness". It is expected that he will be buried in Rabat's Christian cemetery.

King Hassan allowed him into Morocco on humanitarian grounds after Mobutu was ousted, and abandoned by his former backers, the French.

Old Mobutu
Mobutu took power and established a dictatorship
Mobutu's progressing illness and growing unrest in the east of Zaire gradually weakened his grip on the country which he had ruled ruthlessly for 32 years.

The years after independence from Belgium in 1960 had been chaotic. The army mutinied, two of the country's richest provinces attempted to secede, and the country's first premier, Patrice Lumumba, was assassinated.

Born in 1930 in Lisala, Mobutu became a militant in Lumumba's National Congolese Movement in the late 1950s. A key figure in the months that followed independence, he intervened to suspend political institutions for three months following an attempt to remove Lumumba as prime minister.

But army intervention in 1965 was followed by a ruthless crackdown, and Mobutu set himself up as head of state. The following year, he had four former ministers hanged in public on charges that they had been plotting against him.

His rule had the initial backing of the Americans, who saw him as a steadfast ally during the Cold War, as the US and the Soviet Union battled for influence in Africa and control of Zaire's enormous mineral wealth.

Mobutu's French Riviera home - one of many
In return for his loyalty, the western powers were prepared to turn a blind eye to his systematic looting of Zaire's treasury. His appetite for the trappings high office was legendary: he had palaces all over Zaire, and several homes abroad. One of his palaces in Zaire was constructed of pink marble with matching chandeliers. He would even charter a concord aircraft to visit his dentist.

Mobutu immodestly restyled himself Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, which means 'the all-conquering warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake'. A more colloquial translation was 'the cock who jumps on everything that moves'.

Kabila: forced Mobutu out after 32 years
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Eastern Bloc, Mobutu was left exposed. His excesses were harder to ignore, and only France was prepared to tolerate his autocratic eccentricity.

The Americans - as well as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Angola - lent tacit support to Kabila's rebel movement which, from small beginnings in the east, swept across the country and took power in May. Mobutu fled the country one day before the rebels took the capital, Kinshasa.

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